Kuta’s money grows on coffee trees

Kuta encourages his workers to harvest only those berries that have turned red. Photo/file

What you need to know:

  • Jossy Balissa Kuta employs five permanent staff including the manager, assistant manager, cook, security guard and someone in charge of goats. These are accommodated at the farm. Other temporary workers come in when there’s demand especially during harvesting, spraying, pruning and application of manure and fertilisers.
  • On the same farm, Kuta rears goats whose droppings he uses as organic fertiliser.

About nine kilometres on Kikyusa road off Kampala-Gulu Highway is Kikerege trading centre and a few metres behind it is JBK farm.

The 30-acre farm belongs to Jossy Balissa Kuta, a biomedical engineer, who is so knowledgeable and passionate about coffee farming. 

Out of the 30 acres, Kuta dedicated 27 of them to coffee farming. The three acres accommodate a house for workers, store, goats pen (he rears about 30 goats under zero grazing), a cemented drying yard (100ft*50ft) and the rest is used for maize growing.

A guided tour of the farm will make one conclude that this is one of the best maintained coffee farms in Uganda. One can also easily conclude that the farm sits on best soils for coffee, but the opposite is true; a larger part of the land is murram while the lower part near a swamp is sandy. So, what magic has he done to ensure the coffee thrives under this soil type?

The journey
When this reporter visited JBK farm early this month, we found Kuta inspecting his shamba. He had just arrived from Kampala for his routine farm visit.

The 45-year-old took us on a guided tour as he narrated his journey into coffee farming.

He says he started planting coffee in a phased manner nine years ago. This means his coffee is at different stages of growth. On what motivated him to join coffee farming, Kuta says he was inspired by his father who had coffee milling machines.

“My father would take us to work at milling machines during the holidays. I used to see how someone came into the market as a trader with half a million and at the end of two years he’s a multimillionaire,” he says. He first planted 6,000 coffee plantlets in 2014, but 1,500 dried up.

He learnt the lessons and carried on. He says it is better to plant plantlets in bigger pots and with six leaves up wards.

In total, he has 30,000 coffee trees and of these, only 6,500 are CWD-r (Coffee Wilt Disease resistant aka KR) varieties.

Best practices 
Kuta says he first used 12ft*12ft spacing. However, in 2019, Kuta visited Joseph Nkandu, a farmer famed for introducing the 3m*1m spacing aka Brazilian style.  After the visit, he adjusted his spacing.

“We decided to best utilize the spaces by planting more coffee trees to make it 6ft*12ft,” he says, adding at some point the coffee interlocks, the reason he leaves only two branches on trees.

He says he likes Line ‘B’ because it regularly flowers and therefore gives a farmer coffee even when it’s off season.

“B has big berries. Because of its slow growth, it flowers late but ensures you are harvesting when the season has ended. When others are out of business, you are in business,” Kuta says.

Improving fertility
His coffee is generally green despite the soil being sandy and a few inches from murram. He says he applies manure, inorganic fertilisers and irrigates during the dry spell. Since his top soil is a few inches away from murram, he uses maize stalks to mulch coffee and “create more soil.”

He also applies more manure on a block/section with more murram. On irrigation, he says: “For the entire farm, we use 60,000 litres per day when we irrigate during the dry spell.”

He uses a petrol pump to pump water from a dam that was excavated a few metres away from the farm.

Kuta employs five permanent staff including the manager, assistant manager, cook, security guard and someone in charge of goats. These are accommodated at the farm.

Other temporary workers come in when there’s demand especially during harvesting, spraying, pruning and application of manure and fertilisers.

To ease the work of the manager, Kuta says he will soon deploy a drone for easy monitoring and detection of diseases.

“I pay my workers on time,” he says, adding that permanent workers are paid extra money per work done besides the salary they get for their well-defined roles.

Last year, Kuta harvested four lorries of kiboko (dry cherries). Each lorry is worth 120 bags, implying that he harvested about 480 bags of kiboko.

He says he sold the coffee as kiboko because many buyers of Fair Average Quality (FAQ/Kasse) are exploitative in nature especially when one’s coffee is at the milling factory.

“If kasse is at Shs7,000 and my out turn is 50 percent, I will sell kiboko if someone gives me Shs3,400. I will not make a loss,” he says, adding that it is a wrong perception for farmers to think that kasse guarantees a farmer more money.

He says some farmers forget the expenses of having kasse including loading and unloading fees, transport and milling charges.

Fertiliser boosts harvest
He says he first applied a fertiliser blended for coffee in 2017 and the results were impressive.

“I harvested 265 bags in 2018 from 5,500 trees. I imagined what the harvest would be with 30,000 coffee trees at maximum production! That’s when I decided to seriously reinvest in this plantation through application of the right fertilisers,” he says.

He says casual workers are trained to pick only red cherries.

They are paid per kilogramme harvested. He adds that he gives workers breakfast, lunch and dinner.

“At the peak of harvest, I give Shs100 per kilogramme harvested because there are other input costs as mentioned earlier,” he says.

Asked about the expenditure on the farm, Kuta says his expenditure varies according to situations. 

For example, during the dry spell the weeds are subdued and therefore he does not spend on herbicides. He however spends more on irrigation and labour.

“During the dry season, I spend an average of Shs3.5m on the farm per month,” he says, adding that the expenditure increases during the rainy season due to application of fertilisers and manure.

Besides the dry spells and the pests and diseases, Kuta says it is challenging to maintain a farm such as his especially in formative years before harvest starts.

He says planting in phases helped him avoid cash flow issues. “I have been using income from my job to maintain and expand this farm. I have also been getting loans. I normally repay after harvest,” he says.

He adds that there are products on the market that do not meet farmers’ expectations.

“We normally believe in the people behind these products but some people are not knowledgeable about the products they are selling,” he says.

He adds that the fluctuating prices of inputs affects planning.

He cites prices of herbicides and fertilisers that have shot up in recent years.